John Finley, a Southern Baptist pastor in Tennessee resigned recently, saying that many years ago, as youth pastor at a big Baptist church in Fort Worth, he had behaved inappropriately with two young women. Both were over 18, and there was no sex, he said, but he was quitting anyway.
They were ages 15 and 17, they said, when the alleged abuse began at a Southern Baptist church in Fort Worth. It was true he hadn’t had sex with them, but he’d done more than kiss them, they said. He touched one’s breasts and put the other’s hand on his naked erection, they said.
The alleged abuse began 37 years ago at Travis Avenue Baptist Church, where Finley served as the youth minister for five years. Travis Avenue is well known in the Southern Baptist community, with strong ties to Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
One of the women said she never told anyone about the abuse until college. The other tried once, telling a youth worker at the church. A rumor even reached a deacon. Still, Finley stayed at the church.
The Travis Avenue of today is pastored by Mike Dean, who arrived in 1991, five years after Finley left. He has worked with both women to confront Finley’s church in Tennessee and now wants his own church to acknowledge what happened, while also trying to make Travis Avenue a place of healing.
“That angered me, that we missed that opportunity to set this straight 30 years ago,” Dean said. “I was just angry that it happened and we couldn’t stop it or didn’t stop it.”
The reader who sent me that story writes:
Kudos to the Travis pastor for helping victims tell their story today. I grew up at Travis Avenue Baptist Church and Finley was my youth minister until I graduated. He pursued “closeness” with the youth relentlessly and encouraged us to stop by his office to chat. I took him up on the offer and later found out that he was sharing my conversations with the “popular kids” he wanted to be close to. What a sleaze. I moved my attention from church youth group to Young Life. It is heartbreaking to hear what he was doing to underage girls.
Good for you, Pastor Mike Dean. Tell the truth. Help the victimized to tell the truth. This is what church is supposed to be. This is a reason for hope.